Hersey Hawkins scored a game-high 22 points, including a layup with five seconds left, to lift No. 9 Bradley over Illinois State, 65-64, for its 22nd straight victory and a spot in tonight's final of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament in Tulsa.
Tulsa (22-8) defeated Drake, 68-67, in last night's second semifinal for the right to play Bradley (31-1) for the championship and an automatic pass to the NCAA tournament. Hurricane sophomore guard Tracy Moore scored 27 points, including two free throws to hold off a bid by Drake (19-10) to overcome a 66-56 deficit in the last 1:58.
Bradley trailed until Hawkins' winning basket. Illinois State (15-14) led by 44-33 with 15:41 left. A dunk by Bradley center Mike Williams cut the margin to 64-63 with 1:17 left.
With 35 seconds to go, Illinois State missed the last of three straight shots, and Bradley held the ball until Hawkins drove the lane for the game-winner.
Derrick Sanders and Matt Taphorn each scored 12 points for Illinois State. Sanders had eight of the Redbirds' first 15 points and cleared 15 rebounds in all. Illinois State twice led by 12 in the first half, and 34-25 at halftime. The nine-point halftime deficit was the largest of the season for Bradley, which won its 14th game of the season by four points or fewer.
After Bradley shot only 31 percent and scored just 25 points in the first half, Coach Dick Versace posed a pointed halftime question to his starters.
"I didn't raise my voice," Versace said. "I asked them if they wanted to go for the win. If not, I'd let the other guys on the bench play."
The Braves then began to chip away at Illinois State's 34-25 halftime lead, and improved to 64 percent shooting.
Versace said his team played very poorly in the first half, but attributed that to Illinois State's game plan, which included outstanding defense. The first half was Bradley's lowest point production this season.
Versace also said his team took more bad shots in that half than at any time in the past 10 games.
Coach Bob Donewald of Illinois State said, "You have to give Bradley credit. You don't get to be 31-1 unless you are good."
Bradley last lost to Clemson on Dec. 28 and has Division I's best record.
*Southland: Freshman center Randy White hit a 10-foot base-line jumper at the buzzer in Ruston, La., as Louisiana Tech (16-12) defeated Lamar, 60-58, to advance to a conference playoff semifinal against regular-season champion Northeast Louisiana. Louisiana Tech guard Wayne Smith tipped in a missed shot with 1:10 left to make it 58-all.
Senior guard Tim Norman had 18 points, guard Steve Wiedower 17 and freshman center John Tate 16 for Arkansas State, whose scoring balance overcame a 28-point game by Larry Banks and beat North Texas State, 79-71, in Jonesboro, Ark. The Indians (18-10) next play McNeese State in the semifinals Friday night on the Northeast Louisiana campus in Monroe.
*ECAC North Atlantic: In Boston, Reggie Lewis' 21 points and 11 rebounds and John Williams' 20 points helped Northeastern (24-4) defeat Vermont, 82-61, to advance to the semifinals. Siena became Northeastern's next opponent by beating Niagara, 82-70.
Boston University downed New Hampshire, 69-57, despite a career-high 29 points (nine of nine from the field, 11 of 13 free throws) by the losers' Dirk Koopman. BU (20-8) will play at Canisius, which defeated Maine, 89-76.